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New experiences at Asian Youth Day

YOGYAKARTA (SE): The seventh Asian Youth Day, which ran in Yogyakarta in Indonesia from August 2 to 6, received around 2,000 international visitors, most of whom arrived on July 30 to participate in a three-day live-in programme with local families prior to the main event getting under way.
For the live-in programme, the equivalent of Days in the Diocese at World Youth Day, where overseas guests stay with a local family and are hosted by a parish or school, delegates were spread out across 11 dioceses where they were exposed to a wide range of life experiences.
In Jakarta and Bangor, family stays were specifically chosen so that the international visitors could experience something of the difficulties of life for a Catholic family in the largest Muslim nation in the world.
Father Jemianus Hendrik Rance Tnomat told UCAN, “We deliberately sent them to Catholic families who face problems, such as difficulties in holding community rosary services in neighbourhood communities, because of opposition from local Muslims.”
He added that by living the theme for this year’s Asian Youth Day, Joyful Asian Youth! Living the Gospel in Multicultural Asia, young people can come to understand what it means to be called to live the faith in a sometimes hostile environment.
The programme also gave the visiting delegates an opportunity to spend time in poor areas and in under-resourced parishes, in the hope that they will spread their new found discoveries to others when they return home.
This is an important facet of Asian Youth Days, especially for international delegates, as even if they come from relatively poor countries they are often from quite well off families and have lived fairly sheltered lives.
In addition, challenging them to develop a social conscience is an essential part of education in the Catholic faith.
During the Asian Youth Day that was held in Hong Kong in 2006, local participants showed a greater interest in the situation of foreign migrant domestic workers in the city than their compatriots from The Philippines or Indonesia did.
The comment of Father Tnomat is significant in this context, when he explained that he hopes they will share their new-found knowledge with their peers when they go home.
In other areas there were visits to orphanages and social services that are being run by the Church, with good exposure to the problems that exist in the areas that foment the social needs that the institutions set out to respond to.
But the main challenge that faces a Church in a country like Indonesia in hosting Asian Youth Day is to facilitate a good exposure to the Islamic faith and interfaith relations.
AsiaNews reported that from Yogyakarta to Central Java many young Muslims had volunteered to be part of the welcoming teams in the various areas.
A group called Muslim Youth Friends recruited from the nation’s largest Muslim community that is regarded as being broad in its outlook and Rifqi Fairuz said, “Many students are from Islamic universities in Yogyakarta… whilst others are from the local pesantrens (Islamic boarding schools).”
He said that the selection was made at the end of the holy month of Ramadan and criteria like their openness to people of other ways of life and their ability to speak English were part of the selection process.
Fairuz explained that the young Muslims regard involvement in an international Catholic event it as important on the basis of strengthening Muslim brotherhood and the principle of having a friendly relationship with every human being, irrespective of religion, ethnicity, culture or language.
The gesture from the young Muslims was regarded by the organisers of the event as a big step in bringing together people in a manner that truly gave them a taste of being multicultural in the religious context of Asia.
At a welcoming Mass celebrated in Yogyakarta on July 31, the president of the Indonesian Youth Commission, Bishop Riana Prapdi, said, “The attention and care of young people is becoming the most important thing for the Church. Everyone is spiritually called to spread the culture of faith and life, which are the good values of society.”
He continued, “Now it is time to act, first of all, by looking at yourself. You now will be staying with Indonesian families whose lifestyle is totally different from yours. You will see joy and concern and many social problems, including ecological damage. You must look at this from a perspective of faith.”
In encouraging the visitors not to be shy, he added, “You have to talk to them. Share your inspired hopes and dreams with them so that you can spread good values among them.”
This proved to be a challenge for many, because of language barriers, but some of the more enthusiastic were able to report that they discovered the great value of body and sign language, and the sensitivity needed to sustain it.
But the most important thing the bishop said was to have an awareness of being present in Borneo.
“This is the experience of the joy spoken of in the bible and you will share it with others, sowing good values in society,” he concluded.

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